The average American consumes between 125 to 175 pounds of refined sugar per year. That’s about 1/3 to 1/2 pound per day! Most of this is in the form of table sugar (sucrose) or high fructose corn syrup. Both products are a mixture of glucose (blood sugar) and fructose and both have the same health-destroying effects.
Grains contain a lot of starch, which is broken down into sugar by the digestive tract. Refined grains convert rapidly into simple sugars and have the same problems as refined sugars.
Refined carbohydrates damage our health in three basic ways. First, they deplete the body’s nutritional stores. Second, they adversely affect our brain and nervous system, making it difficult to think straight. Finally, these simple carbohydrates spike insulin production, which contributes to chronic inflammation and obesity. Let’s look at each of these factors more closely.
Refined Carbohydrates Deplete Nutrient Reserves
Sugar has to be metabolized in our cells in order to be converted into fuel. These metabolic processes require various nutrients to work properly, including B-vitamins, vitamin C and many minerals such as chromium, vanadium and magnesium.
In whole foods these nutrients are present along with the sugar, so the body is able to properly control and regulate sugar metabolism. When we eat refined sugar, however, the body has to obtain these nutrients from other sources, including borrowing from your nutritional reserves if it has to.
This is the primary reason why sugar rots your teeth. While it is true that sugar feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay, this isn’t enough to rot your teeth. Workers in the sugar cane fields ate sugar cane, but this did not rot their teeth.
The real reason sugar causes tooth decay is because sugar depletes your mineral reserves. This not only weakens your teeth, it weakens your bones. So, consumption of refined sugar is linked with more than tooth decay; it is also a causal factor in arthritis and osteoporosis.
Refined Carbohydrates Mess Up Your Mind
Because refined carbohydrates rob reserves of B-vitamins, they also adversely affect your nervous system. B-vitamins are needed both in cellular energy production and in the production of neurotransmitters. So, they are vital to brain function.
Natural carbohydrates contain B-vitamins. The molasses drawn off of the sugar during processing is loaded with them. Whole grains are also good sources of B-vitamins, which are lacking in white flour and polished rice. Sure, some token B-vitamins are added back in to “enrich the flour,” but that’s like a thief taking $50 from you and handing you $2 telling you he’s “enriching” you.
But the depletion of B-vitamins and other nutrients isn’t the only reason sugar adversely affects your brain. It’s also because the brain is the biggest consumer of sugar in the body and the level of sugar in the brain is directly regulated by the level of sugar in the blood. Too much sugar and the brain is overstimulated, causing hyperactivity, irritability and nervousness.
Too little sugar and the brain doesn’t function properly. When there isn’t enough sugar to keep the entire brain functioning properly, the brain shunts energy away from the cerebral cortex (where we have conscious control of ourselves) and into the lower brain centers, which keep us alive. This makes us act on animal instinct, rather than rational thought. This results in mental confusion, irritability or lethargy, irrational thinking and moodiness.
Refined sugar puts the sugar level in the blood on a roller coaster ride, which puts the brain (including your mood and your ability to think straight) on a roller coaster ride, too. This is why refined sugar consumption has been linked to hyperactivity, ADHD, anxiety, irritability, reduced performance in school, juvenile delinquency, mental illnesses like schizophrenia and even increased criminal behavior.
Refined Carbohydrates Spike Insulin Production
This brings us to the final reason why sugar harms our health. The job of the pancreas is to keep blood sugar levels stable so the brain has the right amount of sugar to function properly.
When there is too much sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia), the pancreas secretes insulin to drive this sugar into storage. When the blood sugar level drops too low (hypoglycemia) the pancreas secretes glucagon to bring sugar out of storage. Insulin depresses glucagon production and glucagon depresses insulin production. This relationship, which is much like a hormonal teeter-totter, is called a hormonal axis.
When large quantities of simple carbohydrates enter the blood stream, the pancreas secretes insulin to try to protect the brain from the excess sugar. This depresses glucagon production, so when the sugar in the blood has been used up, the body has a hard time mobilizing sugar from storage. The result is hypoglycemia, low blood sugar.
This causes cravings for sugar, which jacks the sugar level up again. This is why blood sugar starts taking a roller coaster ride, taking your mood along with it.
These high insulin levels cause fat stores to increase as the body tries to find ways to store the sugar. The hypoglycemic reactions from this can also cause stress on the adrenals, especially when someone is using caffeine to stimulate them. Stress hormones like cortisol are used to try to bring blood sugar levels up again. This contributes to adrenal fatigue.
High insulin levels also depress the production of prostaglandins that control inflammation. As the adrenals also become exhausted from the sugar and caffeine consumption, they also lose their ability to control inflammation. Chronic inflammation sets in, which leads to heart disease, cancer and inflammation in the brain which contributes to the destruction of brain cells.